Euro 2016 qualifying revs back up this weekend, and we may see the reemergence of the crazy and wacky results that highlighted the first four games for each nation. The perfect example is the standings of Group B. We don’t know if that group will continue to be the poster child for craziness, but there is a good chance that they will be the most exciting group to watch.
The current state of Group B is “upside down.” Israel tops the group with 9 points. Wales is in the other automatic qualifying spot, having 8 points themselves. Cyprus sits in third with 6 points from two wins and two losses. The fourth and fifth places belong to 2014 World Cup participants Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not exactly the type of performance one would expect from nations who were anticipated to be runaway victors in the group.
This weekend will be critical to the final standings of the group. The top two teams, Israel and Wales, face off on March 28th for group supremacy. Currently, Israel and Belgium have played one less game than the rest of the group, but they will catch up by playing each other on March 31st. Both games could really shake up the standings. We could see Belgium climb to lead the group, or Israel extending their lead. With the expansion of the field, this qualifying has given us plenty to think about.
Some fans might be surprised to see Iceland in an automatic qualification spot in Group A. They shocked the world by making it to the playoff round for 2014 World Cup qualification, so this success shouldn’t be considered too shocking. Slovakia has a 3-point advantage over the rest of the group in Group C. In a relatively weak group, this early success may see them through to the finals.
Groups D and E are going pretty much according to plan, with Poland pulling a small upset over Germany in D, while England have a 6-point advantage in E. Both groups have a clear leader, followed by 3 teams who are equal on points in 2nd through 4th. So a few upsets, but nothing that has shaken the world just yet.
Perhaps the weakest group of the lot is Group F. The perceived favorite, Greece, is currently at the bottom of the table with a single point from 4 matches. But in a group that consists of Romania, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Finland, and the Faroe Islands, it is hard to predict which nation will be tops in the group. The nations in this group were celebrating with their draw, and we will see at least one nation qualify for the Euro 2016 finals when they usually wouldn’t.
Groups H and I are going almost exactly according to plan, with the giants leading, and the minnows being left in the dust. The only shock result happened in Group I when Albania and Serbia had their match stopped by a drone carrying a flag that had controversial political statements on it. The match had to be abandoned when fans began coming restless and throwing things at the players. FIFA awarded Serbia a 3-0 victory, but also stripped 3 points from them, leaving both squads with 0 points from the match. The dual forfeit is an example that while soccer brings the world together, it does not take care of all political unrest and feelings.
The final surprise team making a run for the finals is Austria in Group G. They rode the wave of home games to beat Russia and Montenegro while tying Sweden. They also defeated Moldova away for a total of 10 points in 4 matches. Sweden is in 2nd with 6 points, giving the Austrians a small cushion. They will certainly hope to extend their lead this weekend, as they head to face Liechtenstein.
That is where we are at with Euro qualifying. We are trying to make sense of a new format that is giving some of the little guys a chance to make big impressions. A few of them might even shock the world, and that my friends, is the true beauty of this wonderful game.